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Mars habitat program on Mauna Loa gets $1.2M NASA grant

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A space research program that uses a simulated Martian base on the slopes of Mauna Loa has received a $1.2 million grant from NASA.

The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program studies factors that contribute to the performance of astronauts on long space missions such as a manned trip to Mars.

“Our HI-SEAS site on the Big Island is unique among space analog locations, because it is easily accessible year-round, allowing for longer-duration isolated and confined environment studies,” said UH-Manoa assistant professor Kim Binsted, principal investigator for the new program, in a statement Wednesday. “The Mars-like environment at 8,000 feet elevation on Mauna Loa offers the potential for high-fidelity space analog tasks, such as geological field work by human explorers or robots. It’s an ideal location to model the challenging conditions that astronauts are likely to encounter during their stay on Mars.”

The grant builds upon an ongoing HI-SEAS study, led by UH-Manoa and Cornell University, that is analyzing new types of food and food preparation to keep astronauts well-fed on long space missions. 

More than 700 applicants vied for six spots in the HI-SEAS mission, which began in April and is expected to run until August. The researchers are living and working like astronauts, including suiting up in space gear whenever they venture outside the simulated Martian base.

They cook meals from a specific list of dehydrated and shelf-stable food items. The public is invited to follow along with the videos, researcher blogs, and test recipes featured at or on Twitter (@HI_SEAS) or Facebook.

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